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Necromolds review - play-doh meets Warhammer

Necromolds blends radical 90s monster toys, gooey play-doh push molds, and Warhammer-style dice chucking, with mostly great results.

Necromolds review - a plasticine Insectomite, a weird, lumpen monster wiht an insectoid head and claws

Our Verdict

A remarkable toy, a solid introduction to wargaming for youngsters, and a light-hearted wargame for adults who remember the joy of making stuff from play-doh and then splatting it. Though the starter set is a solid introduction, it undersells how good the game rules actually are, and has a balance flaw that may spoil the fun for kids without a little house-ruling.

Reasons to buy
  • A complete wargame that you can play right out of the box
  • You're never too old to make monsters in push molds and squish them flat
  • Simple enough that young kids can play with adult help, and pre-teens can play unsupported
  • Already well supported with expansions
  • Buying more play-doh to expand the armies is much cheaper than buying Warhammer
Reasons to avoid
  • A balance issue in the starter set needs to be house-ruled
  • You'll need to invent your own scenarios
  • The simple starter set undersells how tactically interesting the game came be when you add more complex monsters

If there’s one thing more satisfying than making gribbly little monsters out of play-doh to battle your enemies, it’s got to be squishing them flat beneath your thumb when they disappoint you. I’ve forged hundreds of monstrous little ghouls, goblins, and weirdos while playtesting for this Necromolds review, and while the entry level wargame they’re part of isn’t quite perfect, squishing them flat never gets old.

I tested Necromolds with my eight-year old daughter over several sessions. She’s very serious about winning, but not generally interested in wargames. She had a good time playing (and beating) her dad, but the experience hasn’t resulted in her suddenly asking to build a Warhammer 40k faction collection.

That’s a reflection on her tastes, rather than the game itself; she’s a board game kid at heart. Eight year olds with an interest in gnarly monsters and stuff that goes “splat!” will find lots to love in Necromolds – as will adults who are still kids on the inside.

Necromolds reveiw - a large purple Vegetoad monster pressed out of clay in a push mold

What is Necromolds?

Necromolds is an entry-level wargame with extreme toy factor and an already-substantial line of expansions. Players take on the role of sorcerers who use plastic push mold ‘spellbooks’ to create an army of little monsters from play-doh clay. Like last year’s Snap Ships Tactics, the result is a product that’s just as much a toy as it is a game.

You and your opponent will face off in head to head battles across a small battlemap, rolling dice to attack, defend, and zap one another with magic. When a monster dies, it’s splatted flat beneath a ‘Caster Ring’, leaving a lumpy new obstacle on the battlefield. The last player with monsters standing is the winner!

Necromolds review - the contents of the starter set

What do you get in the Necromolds starter set?

The Necromolds Monster Battles Battle Box Starter Set contains:

  • Two pots of non-toxic ‘Spell Clay’, one purple, one acid green, from which you’ll build your armies.
  • Three plastic ‘spellbooks’, each one a push mold that makes a different kind of monster.
  • Six ‘shared play cards’ with the stats for the different monsters.
  • A lavishly illustrated battle map, plus cardboard standee terrain, and two cardboard measuring tools.
  • Command dice, combat dice, and gems that you’ll use during battles.
  • Two ‘Caster Rings’, used for squishing defeated monsters flat.
  • Rules for regular, basic, advanced, solo play, 3+ player game modes, and optional fan rules.
  • A lore booklet explaining the world of Necromolds, with gnarly art by Thad Stalmack II.

The starter set has everything you need to play satisfying games right out of the box. Building an army is as simple as squeezing play clay into push molds, so you can start playing incredibly soon after you open the box. This passes the ‘Christmas morning’ test decisively – your first game will be underway before the turkey is on the table.

Necromolds review - green and purple clay monsters from the starter set battle it out across a cardboard board

How does Necromolds play?

The very first thing my daughter did with the game was to get every mold out of the box (and the several expansions provided by the publisher) and use up all the play-doh available to make monsters. I joined in, naturally. If you’re too old to squish clay into a mold to make a chunky little monster, you’re too old for life.

The sculpts by 3D modeler Thomas Grave absolutely ooze ‘90s energy. They pack in detail, but they’re still chunky and robust enough to survive the imprecise molding method and floppy casting material. If you remember ‘Monster In My Pocket’, expect nostalgic whiplash from these goobers.

There is a ‘points’ system for constructing your army, but you don’t need to use it – better monsters are also bigger and use up more clay. This should make balancing armies with different compositions effortless – but, as I’ll get to later, not all the monsters in the box set are created equal.

Necromolds review - a player prepares to crush a defeated monster under their caster ring

The game rules are simple but not facile. Each type of monster has unique stats, printed on the back of its spellbook and again on the shared play cards. Some stats determine how many dice it can roll when it fights in melee, defends, or makes a ranged attack. Another row of stats determine the commands it can be given – moving, making ranged attacks, and using special powers.

At the start of a player’s turn they’ll roll some command dice, and place them onto matching slots on their monster’s stat cards. Those dice generate movement, ranged attacks, magic (which can be traded for gems or used to empower certain special abilities), and wild cards. You’ll resolve the dice one by one, removing a die from a card and taking the relevant action for each matching monster.

The three monsters in the box are the cheap and disposable Mud Mumps, ranged specialist Graveghoul, and slow melee bruiser Insectomite – expansion packs add loads more. With your actions randomised each turn, a varied force has a better chance of making good use of everything it rolls on the command dice. Conversely, a force with fewer types of monsters can concentrate commands onto just one or two monster types, giving the force more coherence when the dice roll well.Necromolds review - a player crushes a clay monster under their caster ring

The basics of combat are simple. When one of your monsters moves into contact with an enemy goon you’ll roll as many combat dice as your monster’s melee attack value, while your opponent rolls dice for their monster’s defense value. The attacker is looking for “pow!” symbols, the defender is looking for shields, and whichever monster gets fewer successes is squished – in the case of a tie, both figures get flattened.

Ranged combat is similar, but the attacker won’t be destroyed if they lose the roll off. Players can buy additional dice using gems to boost their chances during important dice rolls. These gems are earnt from some combat dice results, and as a pity prize when one of your monsters is squished, so a lost combat turns into more resources for a future fight.

It’s a solid framework, but the monsters in the base set aren’t balanced. The Insectomite is very, very hard to kill with anything other than another Insectomite, or an attack powered up with lots and lots of gems, or extreme luck. Its four-dice defense is greater than any other monster’s attack value, and it has a unique ability to win ties in melee.

Necromolds review - a flattened monster made out of teal clay with an embossed Caster Ring symbol marked in it

I didn’t realise quite how good the Insectomite was when my daughter and I built forces for our very first game, following a “vibes based” approach to army composition. When my Insectomite shocktroopers obliterated her Mud Mump horde she summarily burst into tears.

Letting her squash my monsters under her Caster Ring proved sufficiently cathartic to avert a premature end to playtesting. The Insectomite is beatable, and it has inherent weaknesses – it needs to use a lot of command dice to move anywhere – but the limited tactical scope of the base game doesn’t really expose this flaw, since there are no missions other than eliminating the enemy force.

Midgame carnage in a Necromolds review game - a flattened monster and a coffin-like Cryptghoul hide on the other side of a barricade from a human hand

Some monsters have one or more stats marked as a “support ability”, which means they can re-roll a combat die of that type when they’re close to another monster with the same support ability. Unfortunately for the starter set, Insectomites have defense support, making a pair of them side by side almost unkillable.

That the main challenge presented by the base set is “how do you kill an Insectomite?” is a real shame, because the monster-squishing system has a remarkable potential for tactical depth. Monsters move in straight lines, and cannot move through terrain, other monsters, or the clay splats left behind when a monster is killed.

Necromolds review - expansion pack monsters in teal monster clay attack base set monsters

This turns dead monsters into obstacles that can slow an enemy advance, granting a whole new set of possible tactics to scenarios based on controlling objectives. Fans of the first and second edition of Warmachine, or any wargame where vehicle wrecks stay on the table, will know how impactful that can be to how a battle develops. But as mentioned above, there are no scenarios other than a basic fight to the death in the base game.

Expansion monsters offer greater depth: I was rather satisfied by the Gorgoden’s power to eat up squished monster to generate gems, which I could then use to power up a frail but dangerous greater Vegittoad to deliver an alpha strike. All told, the rules system is simmering with potential, it’s just not realised in the starter set.

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Who is Necromolds for?

I’m an adult gamer, and this is a game aimed at kids. For a youngster, there’s more than enough content in the base game to get their head around, and the limited scope is probably a good thing. The box lists a recommend age of nine plus, and two kids that age will be able to play against one another without any adult input, once they’ve learnt the rules.

A precocious seven year old who likes gnarly metal art, or who really wants to play a wargame with their parent, will be able to play Necromolds with adult help. As this is a head-to-head, zero-sum game, you may have to help youngsters navigate their emotions when the dice turn against them.

Adult wargamers who like beer and pretzels games will have a great time with the system, but not with the starter pack on its own. There’s just not quite enough going on with the basic monsters in the box. Get a couple of expansion packs however, and this would be a great multiplayer game – even better if you have some ‘90s action figure playsets to battle over.

The clay included is non-toxic, but it does contain wheat, so may not be safe for people with gluten allergies.

Necromolds review - a battle in progress, purple Mud Mumps and Grave Ghouls march slowly up the field

Necromolds review verdict

Necromolds offers a lightweight wargame system, and the simple pleasure of making your own monsters and then pulverising them when they fail you is something that you never grow out of. The starter set offers a complete game right out of the box, but the lack of scenarios and simple starting monsters mean it’s a shallower experience than it could be – there’s more to the game system than it advertises.

The Insectomite monster in the starter box is hard to beat without very specific tactics or luck. While the balance problem this creates is easily fixed by limiting the number of Insectomites on the stronger player’s side, it’s a trap that could create a bad first impression of the game for younger players.

That’s a shame, because the combo of toy fun, radical art, and surprising tactical depth once you add in a couple of expansions is absolutely excellent. Even with these caveats, if you’re considering buying a Warhammer 40k starter set for someone under the age of 10, Necromolds is almost certainly the better choice.